Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 November 2019

Review: Linda Hamilton single-handedly makes 'Dark Fate' the best Terminator film in decades

The film never verges on being dull and delivers action set-pieces that tease out the plot at the perfect moments, says Gregory Wakeman

Linda Hamilton in Terminator: Dark Fate 2019.  Paramount Pictures
Linda Hamilton in Terminator: Dark Fate 2019.  Paramount Pictures

Terminator: Dark Fate is far from a perfect blockbuster. But while it has a derivative plot and lacks the genuine thrills, surprises or thematic depth to rival James Cameron’s iconic first two instalments to the franchise, the return of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor almost single-handedly makes it compelling.

More than that, Hamilton’s involvement brings such a resonance and emotional heft to proceedings that it immediately becomes apparent why the three maligned sequels to The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day all felt so hollow and inconsequential without her.

The importance of Hamilton to the Terminator franchise is underlined with her introduction, which sees her boot slamming down onto the tarmac followed by a slow motion shot up to her face, all of which should be more than enough to provoke a jubilant response from even the most cynical of crowds. That moment also makes it clear that director Tim Miller’s main intent with Terminator: Dark Fate is to make a crowd-pleasing romp.

Dark Fate never verges on being dull, delivering action set-pieces and teasing out its plot at the perfect moments to keep you hooked, but it also doesn’t come close to emerging from the shadows of Cameron’s thought-provoking predecessors.

This feels particularly wasteful since there is just so much rife and timely material to explore and play with when it comes to the current generation’s reliance on technology. Unfortunately, Dark Fate seems too afraid of boring its audience to dive into these potential topics, which ultimately leaves it satisfying rather than memorable.

There’s still more than enough to make Terminator: Dark Fate worthwhile, though, while beyond that it lays a foundation that might ultimately help to make the franchise as relevant as it previously was.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator: Dark Fate 2019.  Paramount Pictures
Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Terminator: Dark Fate' (2019). Paramount Pictures

Set over 20 years after the death of John Connor at the hands of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800, his mother Sarah joins up with Mackenzie Davis’s time-traveller Grace to protect Natalia Reyes’s Dani, who has been targeted by Gabriel Luna’s ultra-advanced Terminator, known as Rev-9. Together, the trio have to travel from Mexico City into the United States so that they can find the one individual that can help them defeat their relentless foe.

Davis and Reyes in particular prove themselves to be enthusiastic and energetic additions to the Terminator franchise. In fact, their effortless, yet still fraught, camaraderie with Hamilton during their trek to America helps to keep Dark Fate buoyant and enjoyable during its downtime between action.

Unfortunately Luna, who spends most of his scenes even dissolving into a liquid, scanning numerous screens with his eyes, or simply staring intently, is unable to impose himself, as he never quite generates the menace or threat to make his presence felt.

Gabriel Luna in Terminator: Dark Fate 2019.  Paramount Pictures
Gabriel Luna in 'Terminator: Dark Fate', which is the sixth instalment since the first film in 1984. Paramount Pictures

Behind the camera, Miller’s sophomore effort as a director, following his debut on 2016’s Deadpool, ends up being a relative success. While there are admittedly some clunky action sequences, it is quite obvious they have been heavily edited down in order to keep the film quick and more streamlined.

Plus, with James Cameron having returned to the franchise as a producer for the first time since Judgment Day, and Miller having confirmed that the Avatar filmmaker had final cut, it would be unjust to just blame him for these shortcomings.

Instead, Miller should be praised for Dark Fate’s opening action salvo, which sees Grace and Rev-9 both seamlessly and breathlessly move their fight from a factory to a high-speed car chase. Miller manages to make each following tussle feel distinctive and unique by embracing the locations where they take place, while he also deserves praise for the manner in which he injects comedy into Dark Fate to stop it from lagging.

That’s especially true when Grace, Dani and Sarah come face-to-face with the person that assists them in their fight against Rev-9, as Miller heavily leans into humour to break the tension and maintain momentum.

But, when all is said and done, this is Hamilton’s movie. Simply put, without her, Terminator: Dark Fate would not work at all.

By showing us the death of John early on, Miller, Cameron and the film’s writers David S Goyer, Justice Rhodes and Billy Ray make sure that Sarah Conner has the same resentment and anger from Judgment Day burning through her from the get-go.

Then, over the course of her relationship with Grace and Dani, we are able to catch-up, reconnect, feel closer and understand Sarah more than ever before, especially as Hamilton plays her as a wiser and more wistful mentor figure.

Hamilton is so increasingly mesmeric in Dark Fate that, by its conclusion, you won’t just have become more resentful of the three recent sequels for making the glaring mistake of omitting her, but you’ll actually see a new, brighter future for the Terminator franchise. One that has her at the centre and, as a result, might actually work.

Terminator: Dark Fate opens tomorrow in theatres across the UAE

Updated: October 30, 2019 02:31 PM

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